Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A view of the road ahead through the rear view mirror

Looking back often reveals new perspectives and deeper levels of understanding of the present and can provide insights into the future. Why, when computer mediated collaborative communication (cmcc) technology such as the person-to-person (video and shared desktops) tools Douglas Engelbart prototyped in 1962, are we just starting to use the tools today? Has the downturn of the economy been the catalyst for this new paradigm of communication? It’s difficult to not find news of ways enterprises are cutting back on expenses to remain viable. One significant expense shared by many is employee travel. Costs are not limited to the obvious expenses of the hotel, food, transportation, etc. but extend to the opportunity costs of the employee’s lost productivity while traveling. Since the early 60’s is this the first time the economy as a sole factor could drive the wide spread use of cmcc or are there other factors contributing to the popularization of cmcc?

Has the technology been so cost prohibitive that only a few could afford to develop cmcc tools based on deep and developed communication models? Licklider and Taylor suggested that in 1968 most governments could not afford it and continued to argue that there would come a point in time when governments would not be able to NOT afford it. Has that time finally come, close to forty years later? Are there other factors contributing to this lag in the evolution of our communication?

Can the resistance to wide use and adoption of cmcc tools be attributed to other factors such as current communication models that can’t be aligned with the technology? If the notion that for communication to be effective it must be performed in person, face-to-face is released the experience has the potential to transcend beyond imaginable possibilities and to offer the development of synergies not yet conceived. If the “traditional” face-to-face model can be expanded to the use of multi-faceted computer aid, communication can become sigmergic in nature. With cmcc tools being available anytime, anywhere colleagues can collaborate based on their energy, interest and available time. The process to achieve goals is not stalled in waiting for leadership to make assignments and check work. Research can be performed to produce richer contributions translating into more meaningful communications. Models as suggested by Licklider and Taylor would need to be reassessed and redefined.

I am in agreement with Licklider and Taylor; no one knows all information pertaining to a particular subject. Humans for the most part want to communicate and be social. One could also argue that we are natural collaborators. Once experiencing the synergies of real collaboration that can be achieved so eloquently using cmcc tools it’s difficult to digress to more solitary models of working together such as collaboration by staple. We have all seen it, or perhaps even personally experienced it. A task is assigned. The work is then divided amongst the assignees. Each person does their assigned part, on their own in isolation of the others. In the best case, they will meet before completion to merge the individual sections together and discuss the pieces and how best to melt them together. Copy and paste is often the “glue” that pieces the document together.

In contrast, the results of true collaboratively crafted work, it is difficult if not impossible to discern individual work as all participants have taken part in the work as a whole not just their part. This brings back the notion of breaking out of traditional communication models and moving towards models that are enhanced by the technology and promote new ways of working and thinking.

my apologies to everyone for posting this late. ~Jami

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